Aug 7, 2022

The Scripture

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of the city;  it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar; the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice; the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations; I am exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

The Sermon

Just as a quick review, you will remember that last week we talked about being in the “in between” time and what a difficult place that is for us. The waiting and not knowing what is ahead…but in the waiting there are choices to make; choices to either give up or grow stronger. This morning we go deeper into the choice of growing stronger, growing stronger by finding God at the very depths of our struggles. We turn this morning to Kate Bowler’s book to the chapter titled: Refuge. It is no surprise that she would have a chapter on refuge, knowing her personal hardships and her journey through cancer that left her with great suffering. We are not unlike her, we often need refuge too, shelter from the storm of life, we need protection from the adversities we face, we need sanctuary, a place to feel safe. Struggle is simply a part of life. And we each struggle in our own unique way. Even though our struggles are private and personal, it is clear that throughout all generations, people have found themselves searching for comfort during these times. This morning we turn to the book of Psalms that so frequently reveal the laments heard from God’s people.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. The Psalmists speaks beautiful words and our hearts desire to experience this kind of healing connection to God. And yet, at our darkest moments I think it’s hard for many of us to find God, or maybe more accurately, let God find us. Why is that? Why is it hard for us to find what we so desperately need? I think the answer to this question is related to our own personal experience of isolation that is so often the result of our hardships and struggles.  Joan Chittister says this about struggle, “Struggles are a very private thing. It happens in the very depths of our souls. It comes with the loss of what we have thought to be of such significance, that we cannot abide the thought of life without it. But (we) cannot really share our pain because what we have lost, however significant to us is not really significant to others.” Have you experienced these thoughts yourself…I can’t share with you my pain because it won’t mean anything to you? Chittister goes on to say, “What we lose is ours and ours alone, our dream, our hope, our expectation, our property, our identity. All private, All personal. All uniquely and singularly ours.”

This sense of isolation and privacy then makes it hard to reach out to others and especially to God. Katy Bowler shares the reality that we often don’t tell others the truth about our hard times to others. We superficially say, “things are fine”, “everything will work out for the best,” “it was meant to happen.” Really, are we speaking the truth from our souls here? We’re just stuffing our challenging experiences deep within and moving on. But what about you at that very point in time, the you that is suffering while experiencing these struggles?

Kate says what ends up happening when we’re not telling our friends the truth…that we’re overwhelmed, sad, despondent, we’re depressed. When you’ve stopped describing pain or addiction or a broken heart. You don’t feel nearly as entitled to the full spectrum of emotions—from joy to sorrow—that you wouldn’t mind hearing from a loved one. But this is what happens when you deny your own true feelings, “you start to hit the mute button on your own life.” In hiding your true, complicated situation to others, you end up hiding it to yourself.

Kate Bowler says this, “the psalms express raw emotion. They cry out in anger. They rage against their enemies. They ask God for help. They weep and mourn. They blame God for not showing up soon enough.” But then she adds this, “the psalms remind us that God can take it all. All the anger. All the shock. All our confusion. All our sorrow. All our shame. All our fear. All our grief. There is no need to tie a bow around what we feel or make ourselves more presentable to God. Nothing is off limits. We can let it all pour out.”

Remember when Kate talked about pushing the mute button on our own lives?  I believe that when we hold back from sharing our raw feelings and emotions, we not only put the mute button on in our own lives, but we put the mute button on God. God can only be present to us in the moment, in the here and now, in the here and now with raw emotions hanging out. The mute button might just be the answer to why we can’t find God, or won’t let God find us at those times we most need God.

Kate Bowler found God right in the middle mess of her cancer struggle. She reminds us that “God is our safe place, not after the worse is over or before the other shoe drops. But right in the midst of our pain and grief and loss.”

Here now her own benediction to us. “When despair has stolen your hope or grief has ripped your heart from your chest or you desperately miss someone you can’t get back, God is there. When you feel alone or terrified of your own mind, God is there. Right in the midst of the trouble, God is with you. You are never alone. Let us not forget that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  This is her prayer to all those who have lost something or someone. Amen